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Making Transgender Decisions

| Jan 18, 2016
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We transgender people make many decisions that are important for our lives and future. They range from whether we are really transgender, should we crossdress only in private, go to a support group, obtain a mental health counselor, come out to others, and decisions on transsexual transition. Decisions relating to trans children now include social transition in childhood, obtaining blocking hormones and starting hormone therapy at about age 16. Since most transgender people never see a mental health counselor, we largely make these decisions on our own. Even with a counselor, the decisions are ours to make. Since there is no “cure” for being transgender, a counselor can only listen us, help by asking questions and provide suggestions. So we should find out about making decisions.

Science knows a lot about making decisions. The Department of Defense has spent many millions of dollars to try to obtain effective decisions and many organizations follow these DOD procedures, including government and private organizations. The procedure involves setting objectives and goals, immersion in the facts, identification of alternatives, analyzing alternatives, choosing among alternatives and obtaining feedback. This process can take plenty of time and one can study a problem to death and never reach a decision. In fact sometimes the procedure takes so long that the problem may go away. That is the reason bureaucracies like this procedure. However, the Department of Defense also found out through their research that most decisions are made in a different way without this cumbersome procedure, particularly when the decision is under time pressure.

What the DOD found is that most decisions are made using a naturalistic decision process. This simple process involves identifying alternatives, creating a mental model of what will happen under each alternative and choosing between them. This process uses “come-as-you are” knowledge and some imagination. Because many transgender decisions come up fast, we typically use a naturalistic method. This means that we need to increase our knowledge of being transgender before such decisions are required.

Transgender people are under time pressure to make decisions because many of the decisions are triggered by existential crises. Existential crises, as the term indicates threaten some part of our existence. We get a sense of urgency to resolve such crises and as soon as possible. The time pressure comes from within. For example, we may suddenly realize that we only have a limited time to live and want to more thoroughly experience being transgender. This often happens when a family member or friend dies and we realize that we are mortal. Another example is when an activity that gives life meaning suddenly stops. In my case, I was a Cold War warrior either in the Army or in the technology business for over 30 years. This started when the Russians launched the first orbiting satellite and our technology leadership was questioned. In 1961 I was a junior in high school and the National Science Foundation shipped me off for an 8-week summer crash course on computer science, physics, math, chemistry, science, and the social sciences. When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989 what had given meaning to my life went away. I even remember where and when. It was after delivering a technology plan that was now meaningless. I sat on the tarmac at Dayton airport. It was then that I started to go to support groups.

There are two decisions concerning transgender children which are under biological time pressure. The deadline for completing decisions regarding social transition and starting hormone blockers is the onset of puberty. To be maximally effective, hormone blockers should be started at age 8-9. (The idea that females start puberty before males turns out to be untrue. If anything, males start a little earlier.) If the deadline is not met, puberty can cause unwanted body changes, as many of us know.

So how do we get the knowledge in advance to make effective transgender decisions? There are four knowledge systems in the nervous system and each makes a contribution: declarative, experiential, motor, and emotional. Declarative memories are formed by book learning, the Internet and from facts provided by other people in verbal or written form. (You are doing this now.) Transgender people should learn as much as they can about being transgender, gender behavior categories, gender systems and the biology of gender. It used to be hard to find such information on being transgender, now the problem is that much of the information out there on the Internet and in publications is inaccurate. So transgender people have to make up their own minds about what is correct. I have pointed out several inaccuracies in this blog. Being transgender is not caused by the pursuit of sexual arousal (fetish), for example. Children hear a lot about gender behavior categories from their parents and others but it may not fit with their biological gender predispositions. Adult transgender people need to talk to each other and possibly counselors to acquire and test information. Knowledgeable counselors used to be rare but more are becoming available because school and continuing education training programs are increasing. My daughter’s medical school now has integrated information about treating transgender people into their courseware. There are several not-for-profits and schools that now do the same. For example, this week I will be going to a WPATH training course here in Atlanta. This is the second of its kind for WPATH but more are on the way.

The second knowledge system is that of experiential memories. These memories are formed through experiences such as one gets through support groups and outings. Transgender people need to undertake such experiences only if they will be safe and do not endanger their families and well-being. Support groups may be followed by outings deemed safe by the group. Transgender people can look back on their experiences when making decisions.

The third knowledge system is that of motor memories. We are familiar with the automatic motor aspects of being able to ride a bicycle, or learning a gender skill like putting on a bra or applying makeup but there is more to this system. Turns out that when we watch other people do things, the patterns in our brains begin to resemble those of the doers. We learn from these patterns. This is sometimes called modeling. Children are expert observers of gender behaviors and learn by carefully watching other children and adults. Transgender children are even keener observers because in many cases they cannot read yet and have to learn two gender behavior categories.

The fourth knowledge system involves emotional memories. These are of particular importance to transgender people because often-emotional memories that trigger sexual arousal get in the way of transgender self-assessment. Emotional memories are formed by pairing a sensory stimulus with a physiological state. In the case of sexual arousal, various stimuli become associated with sexual arousal. This can occur by pairing the stimuli associated with your congruent gender with sexual arousal, which is most frequent during puberty and early adulthood. In my day the stimuli were provided by the Sears catalogue but today they are mostly provided by the Internet and mass media.

People who realize that they are transgender in adulthood are aroused by stimuli associated with wearing clothes and makeup associated with their congruent gender. In fact some people used to believe that this arousal was the reason for being transgender a.k.a. being transgender was a fetish. But sexual arousal fades with time and exposure to the stimuli. Such arousal learning can be un-learned by repeated pairings without auto arousal. Until such time that it becomes “un-learned,” such arousal gets in the way of non-sexual emotions that transgender people have. Once the arousal subsides, transgender people often report that they feel relaxed, authentic and happy when crossdressed. For me, I can describe my feelings as “floating on air.” I become more outgoing and social when being my authentic self. Even after 64 years of crossdressing, I still get this feeling.

There is one last thing that transgender people can do to be ready to make decisions. Each of the four memory systems is performed by different subconscious parts of the brain and nervous system and like most subconscious functions they do not always communicate with one another very well. What transgender people can do is to verbalize their memories either through speech or writing. When this happens, all of the memory systems can hear the same thing. Lessons learned by the other memory systems can be turned into declarative memories that can be organized and referenced during decisions. For example, motor memories that occur from watching other people model gender behavior can be turned into declarative memories by talking about them. Experiential and emotional memories can be associated and captured. How did you feel during your first public crossdressing episode? Declarative memories from book learning and instruction can be analyzed in light of all the memory systems contents. Did I observe and sense the un-learning of sexual arousal due to crossdressing in past experiences? Verbalization through speech can be accomplished by going to a counselor or just by talking to transgender friends and allies. This is another benefit of partially coming out of the closet and going to support groups. Verbalization through writing can best be done by keeping a journal or diary. Writers call this process “making explicit what is implicit” in their subconscious brains.

So do you have transgender decisions to make in the future? Be prepared to identify the alternatives and accumulate memories needed to form mental models so you can decide. Better get started forming memories soon!

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul


About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at [email protected]

Comments (2)

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  1. Katie_ashley Katie_ashley says:

    Can anyone answer a question please.. What is the only way to get bigger breasts, do cream or the pills work please.
    I only want one cup size bigger.
    I dont want councilling I just want to feel more feminine.
    Please help

    • angela_g angela_g says:

      This question is better suited to the Discussion Board. There are threads there that have discussed the efficacy of pills and creams. But the short answer is yes, estrogen containing creams applied topically will have some effect. How much depends on your genetic background. Pills with estrogen work but you are affecting your whole body, not just your breasts. Medical supervision is the best way to use hormones.

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